The new untitled exhibit at the Visual Research Gallery featuring artists Luis Joaquim Martins and Melinda Kronfeld makes up for what it lacks in originality with pornography. Where it fails to stimulate intellectually, it titillates or amuses with its absurdist sense of humor.
The Visual Research Gallery, or VRG, is an independent exhibition space founded, funded and run by four artists in their late 20s and early 30s. The mission of the VRG, located at 994 State St., is the advancement of the local, New Haven arts scene. The new exhibit indeed features local artists: Luis Joaquim Martins works as a tattoo artist just down the block from gallery, and Melinda Kronfeld is one of its co-founders. Martins’ work might be separated into two groups: three-dimensional dolls mangled or dressed to the end of absurdity, and two-dimensional deconstructed hard-core pornography and yearbooks. The dolls include a Yoda doll wrapped in something like a wedding gown, a pink rabbit in a dress showing a peace sign with pasted-on Barbie fingers, and a human brain in a white robe. Though the dolls initially manage to entertain the viewer — many are rather humorous — after four or five dolls, one begins to feel the emptiness of an art critic deconstructing deconstructed pornography.
Speaking of deconstructed pornography, Martins’ efforts in this area are almost certain to yield a smirk, but cover thematically familiar territory. In the piece “Sex Change,” a picture of one man is cut up and put together again to form a figure without a penis. This same technique is used in “Abstracted Porn.” This simplistic commentary on the ambiguities and fluidity of sexuality and gender is somewhat improved upon in “Black and White,” but it is still unsatisfying. Martins’ yearbook work feels more substantial as he renders seemingly innocent black-and-white portrait shots and once-friendly glances plainly sinister by scraping away portions of the faces.
The work of Melinda Kronfeld takes ’60s Playboy and makes it an empowering celebration of womanhood. Figures that may have been degraded by their original context are reworked and rendered as icons of sorts in stained glass. Perhaps the highlight of the exhibit is Kronfeld’s “Miss April”; a blonde, buxom, powerfully-muscled woman who initially appears to be emerging from what looks like Aphrodite’s shell. Upon further examination this is not at all what she’s doing; rather, she’s laying sprawled out on an emerald-green bean bag. A similar illusion is conceived in “Complex,” in which a woman with a body that recalls classical Greek sculptural depictions of males appears to be standing before a barren desert landscape. Though one eventually realizes that she is merely standing in front of an ottoman, she does not lose any of her striking power and grandeur.
Kronfeld alchemizes her inviting pose and smutty demeanor into power and grace. Though it may seem conceptually self-defeating to empower women through pornography, an institution which tends to degrade them, the pornography Kronfeld draws from is from a time when pornography had a semblance of class. Visit the VRG — if not to check out an emerging art gallery, then to see the excellent work of Melinda Kronfeld.